Examining the role of stalkerware in harmful relationships, plus advice on how to identify and remove it from mobile devices
As we reported earlier this year, domestic violence incidents have increased since stay-at-home orders related to Covid-19 were issued. What’s more, abusive behavior carried over into the digital world as well: Between March and June 2020, Avast Threat Labs observed a 51% increase in spyware and stalkerware compared to the first two months of the year.
In July of this year, Google took one step toward decreasing the popularity of stalkerware when they banned "the promotion of products or services that are marketed or targeted with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorization". However, critics have noted that they’re still allowing nearly identical apps that are advertised as being for private detectives or for parents to track minor children.
We’ve now reached the month of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s important to note that a strong correlation exists between harmful relationships and the presence of stalkerware on devices of those in said relationships.
Regarding this correlation, Avast CISO Jaya Baloo says the following: “If you are already in an abusive relationship – or fear it is heading that way – you could be at greater risk from stalkerware. An innocent visit to, say a café to meet a friend or relative, could be reported by a stalkerware app and provide the trigger for abuse. If you have reached this stage, you need help and support fast – and you should not hesitate to seek it.”
Resources for victims and survivors of domestic violence:
NO MORE’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month website
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
List of hotlines on the NCADV website
While it’s important for everyone to have access to information on how to remove stalkerware from their devices, it’s also crucial to acknowledge potential risks that stalkerware removal could cause. “Once stalkerware is installed, the act of removing it could alert the abusive partner. So preventing installation is a priority. The first thing to do is ensure your phone is pin code or password protected, this will help stop software being installed without your knowledge. You should also install modern antivirus software, which will alert you to any attempts to install stalkerware and help you to remove it. Both of these steps are normal reasonable things to do for security of the device and your personal data. If your partner strongly objects to either of these reasonable steps, that again indicates that you should get help to protect yourself,” says Baloo.
How to manually remove stalkerware from your phone